Argentina - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Argentina
Formation 1816 / 1816
Capital Buenos Aires
Population 40.7 million / 39 people per sq mile (15 people per sq km)
Total area 1,068,296 sq. miles (2,766,890 sq. km)
Languages Spanish*, Italian, Amerindian languages
Religions Roman Catholic 70%, Other 18%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 2%, Jewish 1%
Ethnic mix Indo-European 97%, Mestizo 2%, Amerindian 1%
Government Presidential system
Currency Argentine peso = 100 centavos
Literacy rate 98%
Calorie consumption 3001 kilocalories
The oldest remains of human settlement in Argentina, found in the Piedra Museo settlement in Santa Cruz province, date back 13,000 years. The Los Toldos settlement, situated 62 miles north of Piedra Museo, is at least 12,000 years old. Archaeological evidence suggests that these early people were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
At the beginning of the 16th century at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, Argentina was home to various indigenous groups including the Tehuelches, Araucanians, Rehuelches, Guaranis, Rampas, Matacos, Guaycures, Charruas, Huerpes, Diaguitas, and Mapuches. The Diaguitas and Guaranis were primarily farmers, engaged in the cultivation of maize. The Diaguitas were also excellent fighters and had successfully defended themselves against Incan incursions. In 1516, the Spanish navigator Juan de Solís (1470–1516) sailed up the Río de la Plata (which he named; “river of silver”) and went ashore but was allegedly killed by Charrua or Guarani warriors. (Some, however, believe this story was made up to hide the fact that he was killed in a mutiny.)
In 1527 rivals Sebastian Cabot (1476?–1557) and Diego García sailed into the Plata estuary and established a settlement. Apparently this too was wiped out by the local populace. Finally in 1536 Pedro de Mendoza (1487–1537) led a well-equipped force and succeeded in setting up a lasting settlement, which later became Buenos Aires, the capital city. Many expeditions were launched from this settlement, and gradually the entire area came under Spanish rule. This was formalized in 1776 with the creation of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. The viceroyalty had its capital at Buenos Aires and covered what is today Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and part of Bolivia.
On May 25, 1810, a segment of the population started a revolution against Spanish rule and drove out the viceroy, but the struggle dragged on until 1816. On July 9, 1816, representatives from various provinces met at the city of Tucumán and declared independence from Spain. Subsequently, however, the new nation had to contend with internal power struggles, which culminated in civil war in 1819 between the Unitarists (known as Azules, “Blues”) and the Federalists. Eventually, the Unitarists prevailed and enacted their own constitution in 1853.
Initially this resulted in some prosperity, but a combination of factors, including excessive foreign interference in commerce and industry, weakened both the economy and the government. This continued until 1943, when a series of upheavals, including a military coup, culminated in Juan Perón (1895–1974) taking over as virtual dictator in 1946. Perón ruled until 1955, initiating a series of economic measures to boost self-reliance and domestic production. He was deposed in a military coup, which marked the beginning of a 30-year period of almost uninterrupted, and uniformly disastrous, army rule. Perón returned to power in 1973 and died in office in 1974, after which his third wife Isabel, took over. The fall of Isabel’s government in 1976 ushered in another period of military rule. Argentina’s spell under martial rule was finally broken in 1983. The previous year General Galtieri (1926–2003) had attempted to divert attention from his inept governance by invading the Falkland Islands in 1982. (Known in the Spanish-speaking world as Islas Malvinas, these islands had been held by Britain.) The resulting military debacle merely sealed Galtieri’s fate. Galtieri was succeeded in office by President Carlos Menem (b. 1930), who instituted a series of wide-ranging economic reforms, selling off state-owned industries, and opening up the economy to foreign investors. These measures helped curb inflation but also brought in their wake rising unemployment and recession.
Menem was replaced in 1999 by a center-left alliance led by Fernando de la Rúa (b. 1937). The recession only intensified, however, and Argentina defaulted on a series of international debt repayments. Following a brief interval with Eduardo Duhalde (b. 1941) at the helm, Nestor Kirschner (b. 1950) took over as president in 2003. To his credit, he managed to stabilize the economy to a degree not thought possible.
Argentina’s inherent economic strengths are many. It has a literate workforce, abundant natural resources, and a well-developed industrial sector. Its agricultural economy is forward-thinking and export oriented. Its major agricultural exports include soybeans, peanuts, grapes, sunflower seeds, corn, tobacco, wheat, and livestock. Its industrial exports include motor vehicles, textiles, chemicals, steel, petrochemicals, and consumer durables. Its chief imports include machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, and plastics. In the last few years, Argentina has posted growth rates of about 11 percent per year. Nevertheless, poverty remains a problem, and large international debts have undermined investor confidence.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
From the time of the Spanish invasion Argentina’s economy and culture have been divided among various immigrant groups, mainly European in origin. For instance the Basque and Irish communities controlled sheep-rearing; farming was a mainstay of the Germans and Italians; and the emigrant British population played a crucial role in the development of the nation’s infrastructure.
Indigenous groups became marginalized a long time ago and remain so today. The main indigenous peoples include the Quechua of the northwest, the Mapuche of Patagonia, and the Matacos and the Tobas of the northeastern regions. Argentina also has strong Jewish and Anglo-Argentinean communities, as well as small groups of Japanese, Chileans, Bolivians, and Paraguayans.
Almost 90 percent of the population lives in urban areas, with Buenos Aires alone accounting for more than one-third of the population. Spanish is the official language and, as such, is widely spoken, but many indigenous and immigrant groups take pride in retaining their mother tongues. The tango, a sensual bracing dance, originated in Argentina just prior to the beginning of the 20th century. Both the music and dance grew out of the brothels of Buenos Aires and were initially disparaged as vulgar. Today tango music and dance are inextricably associated with Argentina and are enjoyed throughout the world.
Argentinean beef is famous the world over. Asado, different cuts of meat grilled or cooked on an open fire, is Argentina’s version of barbecue and it is a traditional dish. People who have grills may prepare asado at least once a week. A meal of grilled meat, called parrillada (parilla means “grill”), may consist of steak, sausages, pork, lamb, goat meat, and various organs, which are served first. Often, meat is seasoned only with salt before grilling, but it is also marinated or served with a sauce called chimichurri, made of chopped parsley, garlic, salt, oregano, pepper, and chili, combined with oil. Italian food is also popular, and pasta and pizza are favorite street foods.
Indigenous food cultures, dating back to preColumbian times, remain in provincial areas. Maize, beans, gourds, and pumpkin are popularly eaten here. Locro is a labor-intensive stew made out of beef, beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, and pork. Argentina grows fine coffee and also some tea; both are important elements of the nation’s lifestyle. Mate is a tea-like drink made from yerba, the leaves of an evergreen tree. Wine and beer are also extremely popular in Argentina, and the country produces some of the finest wines in the world.